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October 2011

Swinging Abby Part 10: The Peeps Behind the Curtain

When I set out to stake my claim as an endurance record holder, I assumed the only things I would need would be determination and patience. Being rather a loner at heart, it was the perfect endeavor. After all, I was the only person who had to do anything, right?. I had to make the choice, I had to keep the swing moving, I had to decide whether to take my break or skip it, I had to fight off the fatigue and deal with the discomfort. I was the one doing this, making the sacrifice. Right?
 
Well, right…but although I knew I wouldn't be able to do it ALL alone, I hadn't realized how many other people would be needed to make it happen. People who organized their entire day around "Abby at the park" and contributed their time in ways I could not have imagined while I sat in my bedroom reading that silly Seventeen magazine.
 
There's an entry in my mom's diary dated 8/24, only three days into the stunt. It reads:
 
"11:45 AM - Raining again. Abby is holding up very well (not sure if parents are)."
 
For me, it was summer vacation, and my odd start date of Tuesday August 21st was only due only to the fact that I had to squeeze in the necessary hours to beat the record before school started. But for my parents, vacation (whatever little they took of it that summer) was over and paying the bills didn't take a break for such silliness. While I couldn't be left alone (not just out of parental concern and safety reasons - Guinness required that an adult witness be present at all times), they still had to go to work, do chores, and take care of my younger sister Melynda, all while living most of their off-work hours in a public park and doing the meet-n-greet with double-plus dozens of visitors on a daily basis. You know, when you're fifteen, you kind of just expect that your parents will be around to "take care of things". Well, they did! They were always there when they could be, and as I remember they did a good job of balancing the encouragement to keep going with concern for my wellbeing, a thin line to walk with anyone, much less tired teenager on a roller-coaster ride to notoriety!
 
Other relatives and friends played a huge roll in keeping me going as well as taking care of my needs. My wonderful and hilarious aunt Mary Lou Rumpff, along with her friends Pat (Cole) Westbrook and Pat's sons Raymond and Tracy (always good for rainy day entertainment!), along with Peg and Jim McCracken were practically a surrogate family for me and could always be found at The Picnic Table, manning the logbook, keeping track of my breaks, and waiting on me whenever I needed something (which could be anything from a tissue, to my jacket, to the lunch I'd just ordered from McDonalds.) From Mom's diary:
 
Mary Lou and Pat are here daily when we're working. Don't know what we would do without them and Peg and Jim McCracken! Those four people have been with Abby thru all hours of day and night and thru all the rain we've had.
 
Then there were those who could be counted on with clockwork precision to show up. From my memoirs:
 
A lot of my Mom & Dad's friends from work always came by to see me. I especially liked my mom's friends Sherry Creedon and Barb Janiak because they always had something encouraging or funny to say.
 
Stan & Barb Janiak came by. Everyone was sitting on the little animals, singing songs. Personally I thought they were a little fruity!
 
Looking back, it's possible they'd been drinking something fruity...after all, my folks and the support staff needed their entertainment as well! Seriously though, having "The Regulars" was so important that my mom made a list of them, and if I recall correctly I sent thank-yous to everyone after it was over. From just making sure the logbook didn't go too long without a signing late at night, to bringing snacks, or just sitting with me until the 'next shift' came along, these people went above and beyond to make sure everything ran smoothly. It could not have been done without them. So for the first time, here's the list of "The Regulars" - VIPs for all the world to see.
 
My parents, Bob and Carolyn Geiger
My aunt Mary Lou Rumpff
Pat (Cole) Westbrook and Raymond and Tracy Cole
Peg and Jim McCracken
Paul and Mandy Bizilia
Sherry Creedon
Stan and Barb Janiak
John and Sally Clapp
Eleanor and Jim Bowen
Joyce and Omer Croteau
Dale Ely
Vicki Blackman
 

OK
You guys are OK!!
 

And now back to that all-important question: "So, Abby...when are you going to stop?"

Soon...!

Swinging Abby Part 9: Bubblegum Afternoons

Reporters, TV, radio, visitors, spectacles, free food, kudos, ovations and obstacles. Those are the things that stand out in memories and memoirs of my two weeks on a swing.
 
But the majority of the time spent in the park was none of these things. It was the endless hours from which the word "endurance" gets its meaning in the term "endurance record". Hours when no visitors came. Hours when even my family wasn't there. Hours of chewing strawberry-flavored bubblegum to avoid boredom-induced snacking, watching strangers play tennis on the court nearby, and counting the cars passing on River Street. Hours of back-and-forth and back-and-forth that seemed to drag on for forever, watching the watch count down to the next five minute break during which at the very least I could stand somewhere else and see the park from a different point of reference.
 
Mundane things stood out as highly entertaining. A random snippet of memoir entries:

I entertained myself by singing Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da, although it wasn't quite the same without the Beatles singing along with me.
 
I remember watching a little kid from Athens by the name of Shawn Rosh sign his name in the logbook in big kindergarten-scrawl letters, and his father having to write in his last name.

Shawn Rosh logbook entry.
I still remember it, and can even find it in the logbook.

And there was one moment of a scare during which I thought I was going to lose the swing. How I happened to look up and see the bolt working its way loose I have no idea, but had I not the entire thing would have ended with a nasty bump! The incident made the news, along with…what else, a bubblegum photograph.

Blowing bubbles.
This made the door of my orthodontist's office and got me a lecture about braces and gum. Oh, and my sister's opinion of me hasn't changed much over the years. Ha!

 
But mostly I was just marking time. Lots of it. Two more entries that pretty much sum up the average day:
 
Tuesday the 28th. After the usual morning confusion, I was back in the familiar seat at 6:30. Not much happened that morning. Not too many unusual visitors either. I thought this was going to be a long day.
 

Making braids.
Morning grooming - putting the hair in order. This will keep me busy for a few minutes!

It rained and rained and rained…back and forth, back and forth. The monotonous sound of rain, a steadily growing pond beneath the swing, watching Dave talk to my dad…how many more minutes until my break?
 
These were the hours when those folks known as "The Regulars" made their presence indispensible. Some were there constantly, some were just daily visitors. But they kept up my spirits and helped out whenever and however they could. Next time we'll take a look at these important people behind the scenes. In the meantime, here's a great photo of a typical bubblegum afternoon of swing, sun and sidekicks.

Bubblegum afternoon.
Pat Geiger and Tracy Cole hang out on the monkey bars while Dad (his right foot visible) sits with me under the tarp.

Swinging Abby Part 8: The Goldfish Bowl

I didn't plan my swinging endeavor with any schedule in mind except to finish before school started. There was no looking into what was going on in the Valley during the roughly 200+ hours I planned to spend in the park. So when news of the Septemberfest trickled into my consciousness, I didn't really think much of it at first other than to wonder if I'd be able to see it from my vantage point and wishing I could go play on the rides.
 
But, as had happened in the past, others were thinking ahead for me. Hundreds of people would be converging on the Athens Fire Department/Boro Hall during the weekend of August 31st, and there would be no shortage of curious onlookers. I don't know whose idea it was, but next thing I knew I was segregated from the park by a yellow nylon rope. From my mom's diary:
 
Fireman's Septemberfest started today. Abby has been roped off so that only a few "special" friends and family can get close to her. The firemen put the rope up this AM. Lots of people visited today plus 2 newspaper reporters (Beth Weatherby, Star-Gazette and Kevin Cole, Evening Times); WSKG-TV Channel 46 and finally WATS radio.
 

 Camp Swinging Abby
Welcome to Camp Swinging Abby!
 

Soon a path was worn in the grass by people lining up against the rope to see the teenager swaying under a green tarp. They would stand and stare, little kids would ask "Mommy, what's she doing?", people would smile and ask questions, and I would answer them over and over. The attention was both wonderful and terrible at the same time - there was no way to shake the "side-show freak" aura the whole thing had about it.

Sign here please!
Aunt Mary Lou Rumpff manning the logbook. Sign here, please!
 

Mommy, what's she doing?
Aunt Mary Lou shedding some light on the issue. If you know any of these people, contact me!

 
Everything I did and said was under a microscope and there was no escape. Additionally, this was all going on when the effects of sleep-deprivation were at an all-time high! When I should have been thrilled to greet people coming to see me and sign my log book, it was often all I could do not to abandon swing and stomp off into the trailer in classic teen-angsty fashion.

Miss Congeniality. Not!
Smile Abby…  "I AM!!"
(Note the duckie diaper-pin holding the jacket closed - evidence of a neurotic clothing-control issue.)

 
This was local fame, my first ever taste of it, and I was not at all prepared. Looking back, I think some of it may have been a feeling that perhaps I wasn't living up to what people were expecting, and that fear becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. Or maybe I was just having a "fat day". Either way, Mom tells me I was sometimes no less than an absolute thing-that-rhymes-with-witch, and for that I must apologize to anyone reading this that was there and took the brunt of that behavior. If I could do a do-over on that aspect, I certainly would!
 
The Septemberfest lasted two days, eating up the last bit of energy and excitement any of us could handle, but its timing was fortuitous to allow the whole thing to end with a bang. Obviously the most common question I was now being asked was "When are you going to stop?"
 
When was I?

Soon...

Swinging Abby Part 7: The Sign of Sleepiness

I don't remember who came up with the idea, and believe it or not it's not mentioned either in my mom's diary or my memoirs, but The Sign made an appearance in the park quite early on. At exactly 65 hours into the attempt, to be exact. My father made it one day from a piece of plywood and propped it against a large tree near the swing, visible to the passersby on South River Street.

The Sign

 
Every five hours, another layer of red was painted in, giving everyone an idea of where I was in the endeavor and how much longer I had to go. People would drive by and honk their horn, and at one point my sister Melynda was utilized as a stage-hand to hold the darn thing next to me for a newspaper photograph.

Abby with The Sign.

 The Star-Gazette, Tuesday August 28th, 1979.

Everyone loved the sign. I rarely got to see it, and that was probably a good thing as it was too much a reminder of how long I'd been away from my bed. After a week and hundreds of 'miles' on the swing, things were getting a little…strange. My memoirs end abruptly on Tuesday August 28th, and while part of that might've been because of teenage attention deficit, I think some was due to the fact that I really couldn't actually remember much of that second week of my life except the big highlights. Here's another picture of myself and Melynda, taken the same day as above, but without the excitement of a reporter nearby to perk me up a bit. Notice anything unusual about it?

Sleepy Abby with Melynda.

 
Aside from the weariness evident on my face, one of the effects of severe sleep deprivation is evident: the fact that I'm extremely over-dressed compared to my sister. I do somewhat remember this picture being taken, and recall being chilled to the bone despite it being a warm, sunny day.
 
Other side effects manifested themselves in ways that people often didn't understand and over which major disagreements would erupt, but which from a medical point of view are probably entirely logical. I insisted that the other swings on the swing set be tied up so no one could use them. Why? Because having people swinging next to me was not only disorienting but was also enough to make me jump out of my skin with irritation. I developed a strange fear of dogs and small children, afraid they would get too close and bump me off the swing, ruining my attempt. In short, anyone or anything being allowed anywhere near me had almost become a privilege because my small space inside the tarp was the only thing I could control. I took to braiding my hair because even one stray strand fluttering within my vision would set me off into a rage. At night I was sure new lights had been put in the park, which disappeared when I turned to look at them. Voices of people speaking to me sounded as though they came through tunnels, and more than once I nearly tumbled from the swing, asleep with my eyes wide open. It was a rather disconcerting experience, to say the least. How much rest was I actually getting? From my mom's diary, dated 8/31, ten days into the saga (the underlines are hers, which are actually in triplicate in the notebook):
 
Abby has been very sleepy all evening. She doesn't seem to hear what is said to her and doesn't always respond; few smiles were seen from her. I figured out that she has had approx. 31 hours of sleep since 8/20 - the night before she started swinging.
 
Thirty-one hours in ten days. Wow, keep that in mind the next time your teenager is a grouch when rising at noon after a twelve-hour crash. The Beatles' "I'm So Tired", often heard playing on my small tape-recorder, became my theme song, and to this day it causes feelings of sleepy swaying whenever I hear it. Utter exhaustion, puntuated by bouts of manic clarity, haunted me for the remainder of the endeavor, and there was absolutely nothing anyone could do about it except try to cope. Coffee wasn't yet on my menu, and if I recall correctly it wasn't allowed by Guinness anyway. Sometimes the hours passed like swimming through mud.

In the meantime, the daily newspaper coverage continued: The Evening Times, Star-Gazette, The Daily Review - even the Associated Press picked it up as people as far away as Montreal and Louisiana told locals they'd heard about me. Additionally, radio (WQIX-WQIT) and television (WENY) interviews were done. Perk-me-ups abounded: my mom brought my cat Puddy to visit, as he was himself out of sorts in my absence; friends and family called on the phone to say hi and lend words of encouragement (oh, did I mention a land-line was installed next to my swing? Yes. Who wants to order pizza?!); Athens resident Larry Riley lent his battery-operated TV so we could watch me on the news (Local Girl Swings To Fame - film at eleven!); and Gene Paluzzi wrote an editorial encouraging people to visit.

Gene Paluzzi Evening Times editorial.

 
The editorial was well-timed. Not that I had a lack of visitors, but the "Firemen's Septemberfest", a carnival that took place at the Athen's Fire Department across the park, was to begin in two days.
 
And I was about to become one of the main attractions.